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Doctor tells of 'personal guilt' in fatal hit-and-run; Denies criminality, cites regret as testimony ends

Dr. James G. Corasanti finished testifying Monday in his hit-and-run and manslaughter trial, saying he "felt personal guilt" that he was "not able to help someone I hurt."

But he said it was "not criminal guilt."

During cross-examination in Erie County Court, Corasanti denied texting on Heim Road in Amherst as he drove home from his country club outing on the night of July 8, when his 2010 BMW fatally struck teenage longboard skater Alexandria "Alix" Rice.

Repeating earlier testimony, Corasanti said, "I felt like I ran over something on the road."

"I didn't know what I hit," Corasanti said under questioning from prosecutor James F. Bargnesi. "I was looking ahead," Corasanti recalled, and he said both of his hands were on the steering wheel.

The impact of striking Rice, 18, damaged the hood, buckling it 8 inches.

"I did not see it," Corasanti replied when Bargnesi asked whether the doctor saw the damaged hood as he continued driving home.

Corasanti also said he did not see the missing glass from his BMW's side-view mirror, nor did he notice that the car's right headlight shined at a different angle.

Bargnesi asked Corasanti to say how much damage he saw to his car, after he arrived home and inspected the car in the garage.

A lot of damage? Or a little damage?

"It was much more damage than I had expected," Corasanti said.

Bargnesi pressed him. A lot or a little damage?

"It's a relative term," Corasanti said. "It's a lot of damage."

The prosecutor also pressed the 56-year-old Getzville physician on why he did not call 911 after he arrived at his home and saw the damage.

"I had no idea I hit a person," Corasanti replied.

Corasanti said he was anxious about what had happened, and the damage, so he called lawyer Thomas H. Burton, his friend of 30 years.

Bargnesi asked if Corasanti knew Burton's phone number by heart.

Yes, Corasanti replied, and he recited it at the prosecutor's request.

"Know 911 by heart on July 8?" Bargnesi asked.

Corasanti said he called Burton after inspecting his car in his garage and seeing blood and a dime-size piece of tissue on the right corner of the bumper.

"I didn't call him because I needed an attorney," Corasanti said, noting Burton's previous law enforcement experience. "I just needed advice on what to do."

Laureen Corasanti, after looking at the BMW in the garage with her husband, got in her vehicle and drove to Heim. Police had closed Heim, and she saw the flashing lights of an ambulance and police cars.

She called Burton from the scene. Then she returned home "frantic."

Upon her arrival, Dr. Corasanti said he called Burton again, because now it was apparent that he had struck a person.

Corasanti said he was told to sit tight and wait for Burton's associate, attorney Cheryl Meyers-Buth, to arrive. Corasanti said he was under the impression, at the time, that she would surrender him to police.

The doctor said he told Burton, by phone, that he would do "what I needed to do."

Instead, he ran from his house.

He testified Friday that he did not want to surrender to police at his home "with my son there."

"It was pretty frantic," Corasanti said. "Laureen and I were arguing."

Neither knew the extent of the victim's injuries.

"You argued over the fact you killed someone because you drank too much?" Bargnesi asked, prompting defense attorney Joel L. Daniels to object to the question.

"Absolutely not," Corasanti said.

After bolting from his home, Corasanti was found a short time later by two of his neighbors.

As Corasanti and the neighbors walked and talked, one of them, Joseph Piparo, sent a text to off-duty Amherst Police Officer John McGarvey, an acquaintance.

Later, by phone, the officer told Piparo that a young woman had been struck and that "she wasn't in good shape."

Piparo handed Corasanti the phone so he could talk with McGarvey.

"I told him who I was, told him I hit something, that I was on Heim," Corasanti said Monday. "I told him I wanted to do the right thing, that I didn't want to do any more harm."

Corasanti agreed to walk to the Noco Express on Millersport Highway, about a mile away.

After turning himself in, Corasanti refused to submit to an alcohol breath test at 1:44 a.m., about two hours and 20 minutes after his car struck Rice.

He testified he refused to be tested on advice from counsel.

"I don't know what my blood-alcohol reading was at the time of the accident," he said.

On the 15th day of the trial, Corasanti answered questions from Bargnesi and Daniels for about two hours.

At the time of the incident, Corasanti said, "I had no suspicion that I hit a person."

Bargnesi asked whether the doctor had "zero suspicion" he had hit a person.

"At that point," Corasanti replied.

"Zero suspicion?" Bargnesi asked again.

"Zero suspicion," the doctor said.

Corasanti faces charges of second-degree vehicular manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter, leaving the scene of an incident without reporting, resulting in death, and tampering with physical evidence. Prosecutors have said Corasanti was drunk, speeding and texting when his car struck the Amherst teenager and drove away.

In other developments Monday:

Daniels requested a mistrial because of an article in The Buffalo News on Sunday about the Corasanti trial, which he called "grossly unfair and provocative." Judge Sheila A. DiTullio denied the request and asked the jurors, individually, whether they had read the article. Every juror denied seeing the article.

The Sunday article used information that has come out during the course of the trial to piece together what is known about the hours leading up to Rice's death at about 11:21 p.m. July 8.

*A juror who started training Monday for a long-sought-after job with the state Department of Corrections was excused from the jury and replaced by an alternate; one alternate remains.

*Jimmie Valentine, a toxicology consultant for the defense who is a retired University of Arkansas College of Medicine professor, said he "cannot have any confidence" in the blood test showing that Corasanti registered a 0.10 percent blood-alcohol content, 0.02 above the legal limit, five hours after the fatal incident.

Valentine called the reading unreliable, in part, because he said the blood test machine was not properly calibrated. A toxicologist for the Erie County Medical Examiner's Office previously testified that the blood test result is reliable and that the equipment was working properly.

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